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  1. #1

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    Seen other guitarists such as Zakk Wylde and Justin Sandercoe who have grown their nails on their right hand out for finger picking.
    I've tried it a few times to help with it, but it just hurts and they get in the way.

    Any first hand experience in this field would help. I wanna get my fingerpicking sound more crisp/articulate.


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  3. #2

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    I dislike the sound of nails on steel strings.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    I dislike the sound of nails on steel strings.
    I heard it gives a similar sound to Tortoise shell. True or not, I have no idea.

  5. #4

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    The classical guitarists spend a lot of time working on and thinking about right hand fingerpicking technique. I think that is the best place to look for guidance; classical instruction.

    There is a 'preparation' to the stroke that you might not be aware of. The finger is placed on the string right before the string is plucked. This may help with your articulation problem.

    Also the angle of the finger as it plucks the string is something to consider. The tone is much more round (and I think better) when the string is plucked at an angle instead of perpendicularly.

    There is a rest stroke vs. a free stroke also to consider.

  6. #5

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    I used to focus on my nails back when I was doing a lot of fingerpicking, but I could never deal with long nails. I just keep a little nail sticking beyond flesh like 1/16" or hair more. Shape pretty much gets determined by the strings, steel strings tear up nails pretty fast. If I'm gigging and need to keep my nails from chipping away I will use Sally Hansen's Hard As Nails it a clear nail polish to harden nails.

  7. #6

    In the video, Michael Hedges explains how he used ping-pong balls to strengthen his nails for steel string guitar and the like.

    Oh, and just adding something about length- Scott Tenant, author of Pumping Nylon, says that your fingernails are the right length for fingerpicking if you can hold a nail file against the tip of your finger and nail at the same time, and it's perpendicular to the fingertip, if that makes sense.
    Last edited by Shadow of the Sun; 12-23-2012 at 08:44 AM.

  8. #7

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    Hi I haven't posted much since usually I have found that it's easier to learn if you listen. But this topic is right on something I am working on. I have been doing lots of stuff with trying to get my fingerstyle chops up to speed and nails have definitely been a part of it.
    Most of the advice that I have found seems to talk a lot about how to approach the nail from an acoustic point of view which I think is somewhat deceptive. Since you are usually playing jazz guitar amplified not only the angle of contact but the necessary factor of maintaining control(muting) can really come into play. The only real approaches to fingerstyle for jazz and nails that I have found to have "real" on topic info are

    1. A bit that is on the martin taylor guitar school classes. Martin seems to prefer only a small bit of nail to use as a secondary part of the attack. His description revolves around the idea of the breath used to play a saxophone. He thinks of the fingertip as the breath and the nail as the note. It sounds complicated but when you try it with shorter nails and you are amplified it makes sense.

    2. The second best info that I found is the Steve Herberman Master Class on Electric Fingerstyle at Mikes Master Classes.
    Steve claims to have found that the nail shape should be rounded to match the finger.His video is well worth the cost and even if you just check his demos you can see that it works for him. Steve's approach kind of falls in line with how the images Martin Taylor's video look on his lessons.
    Electric Fingerstyle Guitar | Mike's Master Classes

    For myself I am still adjusting to different approaches but when I just let the nail go for a few days then file it rounded and short the tone with an amp seems to be pretty optimum not too much noise and not too much nail. I have also found that keeping the thumb nail - the part closest to the guitar fairly flat helps to make sure you can control when you actually use the thumbnail and so if you want that Wes type sound it does not get in the way.

    BTW thanks a lot for posting the Michael Hedges... I had not seen this and love his style.
    ok... back to lurking.

  9. #8

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    Longer nails are a necessity for playing a classic guitar in order to draw volume from the instrument and to shade the tone.

    Like Jeff, I don't like the sound of nails, real or artificial, on steel strings and especially on electric guitars. I keep just enough nail to support the flesh when I pluck the strings. For me, that means that I can barely see the tip of the nail when I hold my palm in front of my face. It does require constant maintainance. I have to file and buff my nails every other day. I have always shaped my nails to conform to my fingers as Steve Herberman does.

    I have recently begun experimenting with Ted Greene's approach when playing electric guitar, which is to trim the nail short and use flesh only.
    Last edited by monk; 05-28-2013 at 01:07 PM.

  10. #9

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    More and more guys are using fake nails because they take the beating from steel strings much better than natural nails. Metheny talked about a manicurist he found who was "the Coltrane of nail care".

    I remember Chet Atkins saying that "You never open a door with your right hand because there may be somebody getting ready to open it from the other side".

    I play some stuff fingerstyle and keep my nails just barely long enough to hit the string after my finger has already plucked it.
    Last edited by Flyin' Brian; 05-28-2013 at 01:38 PM.

  11. #10

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    Okay, I have to admit that this thread has made me decide to go venture off to Sally beauty supply today. Can't say that I've done that before.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by NSJ
    Okay, I have to admit that this thread has made me decide to go venture off to Sally beauty supply today. Can't say that I've done that before.
    Take a trip to the Annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention in Nashville. Besides lots of good guitar playing, you can hear hundreds of men standing around sharing nail tips.

  13. #12

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    The flamencos use super glue and tissue paper to reinforce the nail tips, a technique I picked up in Spain years ago, which also allows me to play electric guitar with nails and get a good sound without doing too much damage to the nails. Once set and dry, the tissue is easy to shape with emery boards and sandpaper, and one can leave a little bit of nail showing to actually strike the string. A flat-wound or nylon tape-wound string will do less damage than a round-wound steel string, of course.

  14. #13

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    I prefer the sound of the finger pad. James Taylor has a great video on his website about his technique.

  15. #14

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    When I was younger I took classical for a number of years. I was told to try and file the nail so that the flesh and nail makes contact with the string at the same time. They should be shaped so that each nail attacks the string in a consistent way. The actual length and shape depends on the shape and configuration of each finger. Most people have fingers and nails that actually are "bent" or angled in different directions in relation to the strings and so each finger has to be approached differently depending on how it naturally attacks the strings. if you hold your fingers together and look at the tips directly from the ends of the fingertips, you will see that they are angled differently from one another. So you should treat each finger individually in terms of length and shape. But generally I think a lot of people tend to keep their nails too long for a good tone and that also makes them harder to maintain.

    That's for classical guitar (in my experience). I also think that it is difficult to get a good tone using nails on steel strings or electric guitars.

  16. #15

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    I asked about nails here a few months back and received some great suggestions. I think I tried them all. I'm still primarily a pick player, but I do like having my nails as an option. Here's what I've found...

    Finger Picks: Work surprisingly well if you get a good set. I ended up preferring metal picks over plastic picks because of the sound and being able to shape the metal picks to fit my nails exactly. I ultamently don't use finger picks though. Thumb and two fingers are ok, but 4-5 and they start getting in each others way. Click, click, click. Also you are dependent on having the perfect set with you at all times. I'm too lazy for that.

    Ping Pong Balls: Work very well. You superglue a slice of ping pong ball under your nails and shape. It's a lot of hassle. DANGER! Slices of ping pong ball under your nail is a very effective torture technique. They are superglued on. You'll live with it for a while. I tried it only once.

    Super Glue Tissue to the top: Superglue a single ply of tissue to the tips of your nail, 1/4 or less. It takes a little technique to not make a mess, but works very well. I use two layers. It lasts for about two weeks with touchups. This is the technique I use if I'm adamant about having performance capable nails.

    A Thin Bead of Superglue: Every two or three days, I run a bead of sg along the tips of my nails. About 1/8 inch. It's not strong enough for a full on performance, but a little bit of playing and hybrid picking is possible.

    I find having nails to be a daily chore. I file them with a good crystal file. You want the tips as smooth as you can get them. I would suggest, unless you are looking for another hobby, use a pick.

  17. #16

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    When I started to play back in high school one of the first things I did was take some classical lessons mostly to learn how to play with my fingers. I've had the nails on my right hand slightly longer ever since. After some months they stopped breaking and tearing, and over the years they've been relatively easy to care for. I'm not a big nut about it, I might file them once a week or so. I do enjoy having the option to use my fingers.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Whirly
    Finger Picks: Work surprisingly well if you get a good set. I ended up preferring metal picks over plastic picks because of the sound and being able to shape the metal picks to fit my nails exactly. I ultamently don't use finger picks though. Thumb and two fingers are ok, but 4-5 and they start getting in each others way. Click, click, click. Also you are dependent on having the perfect set with you at all times. I'm too lazy for that.
    Bone stock Dunlop tortoise ones work for me (thumb+3 fingers). It took me only a couple of months to get used to them (I played with bare fingers with nails previously).

    The real trick is to remain persistent, and resist modifying the stock picks. I shortened a couple of thumbpicks years ago, cause they initially felt better - but they really just felt more similar to the bare thumb I got used to. The brain is a powerful device.

  19. #18

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    So, is there a way to PRESERVE long finger nails (for classical/nylon purposes) and still play finger-style on a steel string guitar? I have found that the steel string just chews them up.

  20. #19

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    Genetics aside, lots of fish, (cod) liver and dairy products will help. Too bad that even healthy nails are just not thick enough for getting the volume of picks/fingerpicks on a steel string acoustic.

  21. #20

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    Fernando Sor thought nails were not required. Mauro Guilianni believed otherwise. Their students used to riot at the concerts to defend the master's honor. I guess you have to find your own tone.

  22. #21

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    Nails produce a brighter tone, which might explain why they're more popular with country players than jazzers. Country guys seem to be the most nail-obsessed guitarists outside of classical, since they almost all use their nails in some form or fashion, either thumb picking or chicken picking with a flat pick. Brent Mason uses cheap Wal-Mart fakes and superglue. His wife posted a long, thorough explanation over at Johnny Hiland gets his nails done at a salon, by a Vietnamese guy named Van, whom he calls "Van Nailen". His are about the longest I've seen on a non-classical guitarist. Brad Paisley keeps his nails short, as does Vince Gill, both of whom have a rounder, darker tone.

  23. #22

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    This thread is ground zero for explaining why I could never dedicate myself to really learning classical guitar. The nail thing is just too big of a quality of life issue for me.

  24. #23

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    Hi, I haven't submitted any posts before, but here is my experience with guitar nails.

    I have played some classical guitar (sort of) in the past and I'm now trying jazz guitar. My nails are pretty weak from age and nail-biting as a child, and they regularly break or split, so I need to work to take care of them. A book that Rico Stover put out on nail care, available from his web-site, has been a very useful to me.

    I find that I need to apply essential oils to my nails every day, preferably twice a day, to stop them from breaking. This is available from stores that sell nail products as cuticle oil or nail nourishing oil. That generally helps, but I can't grow my nails to the length that I want for classical guitar playing without them breaking, so I use false nails.

    I have tried various false nails, but the ones that work best for me are the Riconails, which are glued temporarily to my real nails, using sticky dots. It is necessary to clean the nails first using isopropyl alcohol, and getting the dots off the backing can be difficult, but they work for me.

    Because I live in Australia, ordering new dots from the States is expensive in mailing costs, so I use the Sellotape medium permanent dots, which work well, although they don't like getting wet.

    Now that I am moving to jazz and steel strings, I am getting the sound that I want from a flat-pick, but I am still working on getting a decent finger-picking sound. Without nails seems better at the moment, but I have more work to do here.

  25. #24

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    If you look at my hand from the palm side, I have about a 1/16" of nail protruding from the end of the finger. I like to feel the pulp hit the string then the nail. I can also "claw in" for more tone.

    I sand the nails down periodically but don't really do anything special, other than avoiding physical trauma. So I don't reach for car or house doors with the right hand, play frisbee, do handyman stuff without gloves, etc. Also hidden risk is toilet seats that have some tension on them--you lift them up and they spring back and hit the nail. I've broken a couple this way, so now only lift the toilet seat with the left hand. (Like they do in India LOL.)

    William Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill records and an incredible fingerstyle player, said he now uses fake nails applied by a salon. I guess if I were a pro that's what I might do.
    Last edited by Doctor Jeff; 01-01-2019 at 03:54 PM.

  26. #25

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    I only like nail tone for nylon strings, dislike it on steel strings. But, playing classical made me have longish nails. When facing my palm, i can see a bit of nail on the fingers. But the contour is different on every finger, mostly on the ring finger. It literally took me years of frustration to come up with a way that works for me. That includes filing the outer part of the thumb so i can do WES style playing without hearing the nail.

    Regarding breaking nails, i think it is mostly a technique problem, at least if you have healthy nails and diet. Still mess them up from time to time, but not as much as i used to.

    I really would like to play everything with short nails, but the difference they make in nylon strings is worth the hassle for me. So many more colors available with them..

  27. #26

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    Since the 70’s I always keep my nails just long enough so I can see a sliver of nail when looking at the palm of my hand. Like so many classical guitarists I use a combination of flesh and nail. This minimizes “clickiness”. Keeping the edge of the nail smooth is more important to tone than length. Smooth nails not only sound great, imo, but less likely to break even when playing my Tele. I starting using this stuff in the 90’s:

    MicroMesh FINE Multi-Pack (12000, 8000, 6000, 4000), 4 sheets

    in combination with this:

    Foam Block for use with MicroMesh

    The mesh paper lasts for years and gets better the more you use it.

    I was fortunate to spending evening with Eliot Fisk as he prepared to perform the Concerto De Aranjuez. He spent a good forty minutes on his nails using CA glue, silk wraps and the mesh paper to smooth them.

  28. #27

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    I've had long nails on my right hand for over 40 years for folky finger picking. I keep them just long enough to get an accurate, consistent note and no longer. A note of caution is I now have receding nail beds which is a common problem with long nails (who knew) which is horrible. Also they are more brittle and crack a lot. I have tried lots of finger picks and none of them feel right and are unusable - until I tried these in desperation and, bingo, they really work for me. The key thing is to carefully bend them to fit each finger - they don't need to be tight, just form. Also because they are a hoop design you can bend the bit that contacts the nail. So now I have less fear of a nail breaking as I have a usable backup. I get each one set up for a finger and mark it so the same pick goes on the same finger each time .

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  29. #28

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    ^ interesting!


  30. #29

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    Those picks click when the sides touch each other.

    It's a myth that all classical players use nails, even in our own times. Here's a partial list and description of them: Players | rmclassicalguitar

    I play classical, and also fingerstyle on steel strings, and I don't use nails. Can't stand them!

  31. #30

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    I haven't had the clicking together problem.

  32. #31

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    The best length is when you are able to play with the flesh or with the nails.

  33. #32

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    I learned so-called Segovia Technique as a pup... so nail care was part of the "enjoyment" of being a conservatory student. For the past 30 (?!) years I've been using carefully shaped Alaska Piks which produce a fine tone, IMO, on steel strings. No clicking.

    Rob M. gets excellent results with his technique, for which he would surely be scolded by my old conservatory elders. ;-)

  34. #33

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    Oh, I like a good scolding!

  35. #34

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    I haven’t been able to use either of the finger picks mentioned because they tend to be too wide/thick for me. Three of them side by side spreads my fingers out and interfere with each other. But I also tried to boldly go nail-less and just couldn’t get the tone and volume I wanted. So I’ve been stuck grooming one hand to have just enough nail to engage but not so much they are waiting to catch and break as I live my daily life.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

  36. #35

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    Wow, so much good info that I have apparently discovered that this forum won't let you "thumbs up" too many posts at once :-)

    This question is a bit like saying "what size shoes should I wear?" or "what should I eat?" That is, the whole nail thing is very personal and somewhat subjective. I would say that although this thread is a great starting point, you should take a few (or many) lessons with a classical guitar teacher to be shown how to prepare your nails and how to use them to get a good tone.

    I took classical guitar lessons for my first two years as an undergrad before transferring to a college that offered a jazz degree and making the switch to jazz guitar as my primary focus. The first lesson I took as a classical guitar major went like this:
    "Play something for me."
    <I play some Sor piece or whatever, expecting critique about time, intonation, interpretation, etc.>
    "Well, your tone is mud. You need to grow your nails."

    We then spent the rest of the lesson with an emery board.

    - Like the majority of posts on this thread, I feel that short is the way to go, so that you can get some flesh and some nail on the string. I will add, though, that when I had the opportunity to chat up Vicki Genfan a few years ago I was astonished at the length of her nails, which were more like the fingerpicks that banjo players use, or the length of typical salon-styled nails that many women wear for fashion's sake rather for any musical purpose: way too long for me as a guitarist, but obviously works quite well for Vicki! I have also seen other classical guitarists use nail length and right-hand position similar to hers, which is quite different from my technique. I'm not saying I'm right and she's wrong, just that there's more than one approach that works well.

    - Your nails will break and split a lot until you have grown and shaped them on a regular basis for guitar playing for at least a few months or longer. Just keep using them, growing them and shaping them; over the years they will strengthen.

    - My classical teacher suggested eating Jell-o to aid in growing strong nails. IDK how this works, exactly, but I did it, and it did seem to help. I haven't had the need to do this in a long time. My nails now remain strong and usable for playing whether I eat Jell-o or not.

    - Shape the tip of the nail to a curve that basically matches your fingertip when looking down on your outstretched hand.

    - File underneath and on top of the nail, flexing the emery board to fit the curve of the nail, so that you can taper the thickness of the nail to be v-like, similar to a guitar pick viewed sideways. I'm not talking about the shape of the nail when looking down on your hand; the nail should retain its natural curve in that direction. I'm talking about minimizing the point of contact with the string.

    - The last few strokes of the file on each nail should be VERY light, so as to create a smooth edge with no irregularities that can catch on the string.

    - The goal is to taper the depth of the nail top and bottom to come almost to a knife edge. I have actually accidentally cut myself when scratching my face parallel to the direction of the nail with nails prepared like this. But when nails are shaped this way, it takes VERY little effort to set the string in motion (actually true in general but moreso with proper nail shape) and the nail itself makes minimal contact with the string, just enough to add some attack to the motion that the flesh of the fingertip begins.

    - I still prepare my nails this way as a matter of course. It is GREAT for hybrid picking; that is, bass note provided by the pick and other chordal notes provided by the fingers. Steve Erquiaga has the ability to strike all chord notes simultaneously with this technique, such that his chordal comping sounds very piano-like, not strum-like. It is difficult to develop this level of coordination in the right hand fingers, but it is a great sound to be able to use if you put in the effort to get there.

    - I file my nails at least once a week, because after that they start getting long enough that I feel the difference and start feeling that catch on the string. The difference between too short and too long is really just a few strokes of the nail file.

    - My nails don't get torn up by steel strings, perhaps because the sharp, short tips don't exert a lot of force against the string. And because I don't do any sort of folky fingerpicking; I'm pretty much playing electric and doing hybrid picking for chords, with pick-based technique for single lines. I suspect that Vicki's nails take a beating!


    Last edited by starjasmine; 01-12-2019 at 04:20 PM.